It all started back in 2012: Jerry Falwell Jr & his wife met a young pool boy on vacation. Then they started ‘helping’ him.. The Falwells were staying at a ritzy hotel in Miami, where 21-year-old Giancarlo Granda was working as a pool attendant. The hunky young man started mysteriously spending a lot of time with the middle-aged couple during their stay. And later he started flying with them on their private jet to various places. He was seen hanging out with the couple on many occasions, without any explanation.
Pro-Trump Pastor Jerry Falwell Gave Hot Young Pool Boy $1.8 Million & Flew Him First Class on Personal Vacations While Promoting Anti-Gay “Christian Values” as Liberty University President. Shortly after befriending the pool boy, the Falwells asks some associates to help them find a business they could buy in order to give their new friend “a good income.” They eventually settled on purchasing a “youth hostel” in Miami, providing the $1 million down payment on the mortgage (the property was valued at more than $4 million at the time), plus $800,000 to renovate the place. After the renovations, promotional material for the hostel listed the former pool boy as the owner, though later court papers list the owner as a shell company that is owned by the Falwells, their son, and one other family member.
This youth hostel was actually the first part of this whole sordid affair that came to light in 2017 when a reporter for Politico wrote: My Weekend at the Falwells’ South Beach Flophouse and Falwell, Jr. Opened ‘Gay-Friendly’ Youth Hostel With 21-Year-Old Pool Boy . The hostel offers what is described as dorm-like accommodations for $20 a night. There is a bar on the premises, a liquor store next door, and a sign on the front door that lists things not allowed inside, including both politics and religion. It is also described as veery gay friendly, with posters for cabaret shows at local gay clubs on display in the aforementioned bar, for example. In other words, it is a business making money on things that Falwell, his ministry and his university all regularly and vitriolically condemn. But you’ll notice when you read that story that most of the reporter’s concern is about possible tax-evasion that this purchase of a youth hostel may represent.
The story finally started registering when this happened: Jerry Falwell Jr and pool boy sued over business venture. Two Miami businessmen, a father and son with the names Jesus Fernandez Sr, and Jesus Fernandez, Jr. had consulted back in 2012 or 2013 with the former pool boy about possible business ventures that he could enter into with the backing of the Falwells, and they had at least one meeting with both Jerry Falwell Jr. and Granda the pool boy. They allege that they were promised shares in the business and other payments, which have not been forthcoming. It was in depositions for this trail that the amount of money the Falwells had given to the pool boy (that $1.8 million above) was revealed. Falwell claims it was a loan, but has so far not produced any proof that there is a repayment plan or that any money has been coming back to them.
Still, at these point it is all a little odd, and several people were making guesses about the nature of the relationship between the Falwells and the pool boy (I mean, why did they suddenly take an interest in a much younger pool attendant to the point of flying him around in their private jet, putting him up at their home at least once, and handing him nearly two million dollars?). Those of us who were guessing various sexual shenanigans (are the Falwells into something like a hot-wife or cuckold kink? Do they just like threeways?) weren’t being taken seriously.
Until this bombshell: Exclusive: Trump fixer Cohen says he helped Falwell handle racy photos.
So Michael Cohen (currently serving a 3 year federal prison sentence for tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations over his hush payments made to a porn star Donald Trump had an affair with in order to keep the affair secret) was asked by Jerry Falwell Jr to recover some “racy photos, the kind that should remain private between a husband and wife” that someone was trying to blackmail him with. Cohen flew to Miami, and claims that he met with the person, made some kind of offer, and that the person destroyed all of the photos–except one that Cohen himself kept. This happened just a few months before the 2015 Iowa caucuses, and crucially, just before Jerry Falwell, Jr stunned a lot of people by endorsing Donald Trump. An endorsement which, by the way, has been widely reported to have been engineered by Cohen.
Some people will ask why this whole sordid affair is newsworthy. First of all, Jerry Falwell, Jr. is a public figure who regularly endorses political candidates and causes, encouraging his large following to vote and donate in these political issues. He does with the aid of several large tax-exempt organizations (some of which are legally forbidden from advocating specific political causes, by the way). There are legitimate questions about just how much of his supposedly private for profit business ventures have been financed with tax exempt donations to the non-profit entities. In which case, these businesses are being financed illegally with taxpayer money. Among the favorite targets of Falwell’s tax-payer subsidized condemnations are the civil rights of gay people, the health and reproductive rights of women, the civil rights of muslims, et cetera and ad nauseam.
On top of all of that, it appears that his endorsement of Trump, which came at a crucial moment just before the Iowa caususes, may have been a repayment to Cohen and Trump for helping to make the sex scandal of the “racy pictures” go away.
Falwell hasn’t just railed against what he calls sexual perversion, he has actively worked to roll back laws protecting everyone’s right to decide their own reproductive health, including trying to legally regulate what consenting adults (straight and queer alike) can do in the privacy of their own relationships. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to such issues for the last several decades that someone who publicly reviles other people for their personal sexual activity has some sexual skeletons in their closet, yet here, once again, that appears to be the case.
Now, we don’t know the exact contents of these racy pictures that Cohen paid someone to destroy. We don’t know for a fact whether the pool boy engaged in some kind of kinky sex with Mr & Mrs Falwell beginning in 2012 and continuing through early 2016 when they were still regularly seen in his company (remember, he was living, attending college, and running that business in Florida, which the Falwells live in Virginia, so all the times they were seen together weren’t merely a matter of happening to bump into a neighbor). We don’t know if that is what so endeared him to them that they shelled out $1.8 million to buy him a sketchy business in 2013. We don’t yet know how much money nor where said money came from that Cohen paid out to someone in Miami in 2015 to make the racy pictures go away. Likewise we don’t yet know who it was that was using those photos.
Now, since one of the times that the pool boy stayed at the Falwells’ mansion in Virginia was after Cohen made the racy photos go away, I think it is very clear that the pool boy wasn’t the person trying to blackmail them. It is very possible that the pool boy is in some of those photos—Cohen described the pictures as “very bad,” so they clearly can’t just be pictures of Falwell and his wife having sex all on their lonesome, as is implied by the phrase “of the sort that should remain private between a husband and wife.”
I have no beef with people living a monogamish relationship. I certainly don’t begrudge anyone the right to engage in kinky sex. One of the points I frequently make when talking about the injustice of sodomy laws, restrictions in reproductive rights, and civil rights for queer people is that as long as no one is getting hurt and everyone involved is a consenting adult—what people do to get their rocks off should be their own business, and outside the review of the law.
But I do have a beef with hypocrisy from people who are actively engaged in taking those kinds of rights away from other people. Particularly if they are either making their living from the tax payer (politicians, prosecutors, police, and so on) or making their living from tax exempt activities (which means indirectly funded by tax payers). If it turns out that Falwell’s decision to endorse self-described pussy-grabber Trump in the Republican primaries in part in gratitude for trying to make the scandal of the racy photos go away, well, we enter an entirely different level. Falwell more than meets the legal definition of a public figure, and this affair—whatever the salacious details—involves public money, the outcome of political campaigns, and the subsequent assault on the rights of LGBT people, women, immigrants, people who do not subscribe to Falwell’s brand of evangelical christianism, and others.
Giancarlo Granda, now in his late twenties and attending grad school in Georgetown, has issued a number of terse replies to various reporters over the series of events. When asked whether he knew anything about the photos, his reply was that he wasn’t the person who attempted to blackmail the Falwells. Which wasn’t exactly the question that was asked. He has a few other gripes with the way the story has been reported: Jerry Falwell’s Pool Boy: Stop Calling Me “Pool Boy”. Sorry, Giancarlo, that isn’t likely to happen. You were doing your job in a skimpy swimsuit as a pool attendant at a Miami hotel when the Falwell’s met you and pulled you into their life in whatever capacity. You went on those trips with them on their private, tax-exempt jet. And I don’t know anyone who believes it was because of your business acumen. So I’m not willing to think you’re a completely innocent victim in all of this.
It will be interesting to see what comes out of the Fernandez’s lawsuit. And if Cohen really did save one of the pictures, well, who knows what will happen, next?
Meanwhile, you might enjoy this video: Rachel Maddow: Michael Cohen Said He Fixed ‘Racy Photo’ Problem For Falwell Jr (Rachel also warns you may feel the need to take a shower after hearing some of the details):
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
Before I get further, let me get a couple of disclaimers out of the way: I have considered myself an ex-Baptist and an ex-Christian for a long time, so some people will want to dismiss anything I say on these topics out of hand. On the other hand, I learned my deep sense of social justice from that church and more specifically their holy book. I was the kind of nerd who read the Bible, on my own, cover-to-cover more than once (and had rather large swaths of it memorized). I have often said I didn’t leave the church, the church drove me (a gay man) away.
One of the big problems I had, again and again, was the many times that teachers and leaders in the church would insist that god’s love and mercy were unconditional—and then they would lay out a whole bunch of conditions that one must meet to earn that love. At first they said you had to believe in him order to get his love and mercy. And don’t forget obey him, or you won’t receive his love. And obey him in the right way, not the way other churches say to do it, or you won’t receive his love. And ignore these parts of the holy book, but these other parts you must interpret exactly as we say, or you won’t receive his love.
That’s an awful lot of conditions one must meet to qualify for supposedly unconditional divine love.
It’s not just unconditional divine love that the fundamentalist evangelicals don’t understand. They have a similar misapprehension of civil rights. Tony Perkins heads to Fox News to defend Trump administration’s latest attack on trans rights. This takes a little bit to unpack. If you missed the news this weekend, the New York Times got hold of a memo from the department of Health and Human Services that outlines how the government could erase all trans rights: ‘Transgender’ Could Be Defined Out of Existence Under Trump Administration. More details became available quickly thereafter: The Trump Administration Wants to Define Gender as Biological Sex at Birth.
An important clue in this memo is the assertion that previous definitions of sex “allowed the Obama administration to wrongfully extend civil rights protections to people who should not have them.”
Tony Perkins mention above is the leader of the Family Research Council, an evangelical fundamentalist hate group that spends all its time an energy not on helping families, but rather on attacking gay rights and transgender rights and so forth. And he has made a very similar argument for years: gay, lesbian, and trans people don’t deserve civil rights protections.
Which means he doesn’t understand what a civil right is: rights aren’t deserved. You have them because you exist, period. They aren’t privileges. The Declaration of Independence referred to rights as “inalienable”—they can’t be transferred or removed. We can argue about what is or isn’t a right, but not who has them. Everyone has them. The moment you argue that some categories of people shouldn’t have their rights protected, well, that’s taking you a very long way down the fascist road.
And it isn’t something that Christians should be fighting for. They are commanded to love everyone, including their enemies. And as the Sermon on the Mount makes clear, love isn’t just about warm fuzzy feelings, it’s action. Love means lifting people up. Love means standing up for people. Love means doing good for people who disagree with you. Love means not just taking care of your own, but taking care of everyone who needs help.
Perkins and his ilk justify their opposition to the rights of transgender people by frequently making the claim that the Bible clear says that there are only two genders. It is true that the Bible frequently refers to two genders, but none of those references say that those two are the only possibilities, nor does it give a definition of those genders. While some portions make a big deal about what sorts of behaviors are appropriate for one gender or the other, other passages contradict those notions. And there there are a few places where the text asserts very insistently that gender is unimportant. Such as:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
—Galatians 3:28, Holy Bible, King James Version
Which seems to back the notion that god’s love really is unconditional, so maybe his so-called followers should stop trying to enforce divisions.
Note: The title comes from the hymn “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” by Charles Wesley, #2 in the 1956 Baptist Hymnal
Once again stories that didn’t make it into the Friday Five, or new developments in stories that did, have come to my attention. So I’m going to share them with you, along with some commentary and context. Dan Savage used to post this irregular feature on the blog of the Seattle biweekly newspaper, The Stranger called “Youth Pastor Watch.” He had a Google news alert looking for the key phrase “youth pastor” and he would post stories about youth pastors being arrested or charged with molesting girls or boys, having affairs with the wives of congregates, and occasionally other crimes. And there were always concern trolls asking why he only posted news of youth pastors committing crimes. So he started occasionally throw in a story about a Youth Pastor who was in the news for doing something good. And half the time the youth pastor who hadn’t committed a crime would be shown the post with his story in among all these horrible crime stories and he would post a comment to the blog to the effect, “Not quite sure what I’m doing in this post.” You can’t please everyone, I guess.
The point of his posts and my referencing them now is merely a subset of a bigger problem. The evidence of the hundreds, nay, thousands of virulently anti-gay pastors and politicians who have turned out to be hiding some sexual shenanigans of their own has reached the point that I seriously think it should be required of journalists and police to start sniffing around in the background of the vocal anti-gay folks. In hopes of stopping things like this for going on for years: After Threatening Suicide, Anti-gay Pastor Ronnie Gorton Indicted on 47 Charges of Sexually Assaulting Boys. One of this guy’s victims was under 13 years old when the sexual assaults started and went on for more than seven years. At which point he found another teen victim. For some more details Munford pastor indicted on 47 counts of sexually assaulting teens.
I don’t want to deny anyone due process. But this stuff is crazy.
Other pastors have similar secrets: Pastor was ‘counseling’ the young, naked man tied up in his car, he says. Please note that’s what he says, now. When the police first came up to the car parked on a well-lit residential street that neighbors had called in for suspicious activity, the pastor had a different story. The young naked man was bound in nylon rope, sitting in the front seat. The minister was sitting in the back and had to “re-arrange his clothes” when he saw the police walking up. That pastor didn’t identify himself right away, and tried to assure the cops nothing wrong was happening because “We were just playing. We meet up from time to time to play.”
Playing is not counseling. Clearly, the pastor was afraid he was going to be arrested for kidnapping or something, so he told the truth. Sexual play. The young man probably has a humiliation/exhibition kink, and the pastor likes to jerk-off while making naked young men do whatever he says. Mostly technically not illegal (public nudity laws being a thing), but when you rant from the pulpit about the supposed sexual immoralities of other people, encouraging your congregation to oppose gay rights laws in order to stamp out perversion, et cetera… well, no one at all should be surprised when it turns out you have more than a bit of experience with that perversion.
And I’m going to have to remember this the next time:
“If you insist that ‘How can you talk about gun control when you’re never fired a gun’ is a valid argument, then I’m free to conclude that the only reason you could possibly have a legitimate opinion about gay sex is if you have a lot of experience with it.”
(In addition to that fact that this liberal queer blogger used to be a card-carrying member of the NRA, has owned guns, has used those guns to hunt various animals for food, and so forth, as I explained here. So by their logic I can indeed lecture them about gun control.)
ETA: And then I saw this story after posting: Medical Board Finds Ex-Gay Torture Psychiatrist Guilty Of Having Sex With Male Patients. It wasn’t just having sex. Two of the patients thought the groping and such was supposed to be therapy at the beginning. So there was some coercion/deception going on. One of the patients was an 18-year-old sent to the doctor by his parents…
Even so, I was a bit surprised at my reaction to the news that the 99-year-old Billy Graham, oft described as “America’s Pastor,” died yesterday. Let’s make no mistake: while Graham was unusual among Southern Baptist ministers in the 1950s to embrace desegregation (“there is no segregation at the foot of the cross”) and at least gave lip service to decrying racism, he was an unrepentant homophobe. Statements he made over the years included: “Let me say this loud and clear, we traffic in homosexuality at the peril of our spiritual welfare.” Or: “Is AIDS a judgment of God? I could not be sure, but I think so.” Graham claimed to be non-partisan, but often came down on the Republican side of many issues. “At 93, I never thought we would have to debate the definition of marriage. The Bible is clear — God’s definition of marriage is between a man and a woman.” And it’s really hard to justify some of the comments he made while discussing Jews and the media with President Nixon in the 1960s.
But Billy could preach! Oh, how he could preach! It’s difficult to explain to someone who didn’t grow up in an evangelical community in the 50s, 60s, or 70s the cherished place Graham inhabited in the hearts of the faithful, semi-faithful, and faithful-adjacent. Graham wasn’t just held up as an example of a good man and great preacher, people were so certain he was inspired by god, that quoting him sometimes had a stronger effect than quoting from the scripture.
As a teenaged Southern Baptist (very closeted) queer boy in the 70s, I was perhaps more acutely aware of how much Graham was revered than most. While many saw my flare for the dramatic as a troubling hint of queerness, others saw it as a calling from god to become a preacher. The combination of that theatricality with my ability to memorize and recall huge sections of the Bible, as well as a facility with language, and being quick-thinking on my feet had people talking about what a great preacher I would make when I was still in grade school. Once I was older, and had more experience thanks to musical groups, drama club, and the debate team, well, it surprised no one when elders of the church started trying to convince me to get ordained in my late teens.
At the same time, completely unbeknownst to me, Mom and several women in our church were meeting once a week to pray that god would “rescue” me from the temptation of homosexuality. I hadn’t come out to anyone, at all, at the time. And while there are been some very furtive sexual relationships with a few boys my age during middle school, by the time people’s suspicions had risen to that point I was celibate, secretly praying even more fervently than they were, and doing everything I possibly could to be straight.
Which is precisely why, when I was approached about ordination, I started meeting with one of the associate pastors and studying to become a minister. Like millions of religious queers before me, for some time I thought that embracing “full-time Christian service” might be the only way to make my feelings for other guys go away.
I should mention that in Southern Baptist churches at the time, ordination was something that happened usually at your local church before you went off to Bible college. Which is the reverse of the way most other denominations do it. So I was still a teen in my first year attending community college while meeting with the pastors and deacons of our church several times a week to study and pray about my future.
I wish I could say that what caused me to back out was an epiphany about my sexual orientation resulting in self-acceptance replacing the self-loathing I had been taught all my life. That tipping point wouldn’t come for a few more years, yet. I also wish I could say that it was learning that the origins of the Southern Baptist denomination were much more racist and pro-slavery than I had been taught. That shocked me a little bit, but I was already quite familiar with the fact that only a few years before this the Southern Baptist Convention had finally denounced segregation of the races.
What did bring me to my senses were two conversations that happened close together, each with a different deacon in our church.
In the first, the elder in question took issue with my continued interest in science, particularly my interest in astronomy and evolution. He was quite unimpressed by my argument that a god who could plan and carry out a plan involved 15 billions years of stellar evolution eventually leading to humans was a far more impressive feat then simply waving a magic wand and making everything at once. While he referenced the Baptist principle that interpreting the scripture was something each person must do on their own, he also made it clear that my adherence to scientific fact was not an asset for a pastor.
In the conversation with another deacon, I mentioned an article I had read recently in which I learned that Fred Rogers, famous as Mister Rogers on PBS stations, was an ordained Presbyterian minister, who considered his work producing the children’s show his ministry. I thought it was a great example of how doing god’s work could take many forms The deacon had a very different view. First, he pointed out that (in the opinion of typical Southern Baptists), Presbyterians were “soft” on Biblical inerrancy. Further, if Rogers was actually doing god’s work, he would use that daily television show to tell children directly the story of Jesus. Since he didn’t do that, he wasn’t doing god’s work, according to this deacon. Finally, he said, “You know that Billy Graham was raised Presbyterian? He joined the Baptists because we’re actually doing god’s work.”
And those two conversations were the final nails in the coffin of me becoming a Baptist minister. The epiphany I had after those conversations was that all of the church leaders who had been urging me to become a minister didn’t really see the makings of a pastor in me. Instead, they thought that anyone who had Talent, whether it be intelligence, a gift for language, or whatever, who didn’t use that to evangelize wasn’t doing god’s work. That simply being a good person and doing what you can to make the corner of the world you were in a better place and to love your neighbors wasn’t enough.
I didn’t call things off until the end of the Sunday evening Church service where, as part of the process, I delivered a sermon and otherwise conducted the service. I still think that my John 16:33 sermon is an incredible work of art. But even as I was giving it, I knew the whole thing was a mistake. I suspect if I hadn’t called it off, that the deacon who was so concerned about my love of science would have done what he could to derail things. Regardless, there were a few more times over the next couple of years that leaders in that church and related churches came to me and asked me to prayerfully reconsider become a preacher.
I had learned my lesson: if the evangelical faith couldn’t accommodate both scientific fact and Mister Rogers, well, it didn’t have a place for me, either. I didn’t find my real place until several years later, but that’s a story for another day.
Note: The title comes from the hymn “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder” by James M. Black, hymn #482 in the 1956 Baptist Hymnal.
So, in case you missed it, a group of conservative evangelical organizations have banded together, calling themselves The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and they issued this multipart statement of faith, most of which is exactly the same old ant-gay, anti-trans, anti-equal rights for woman, stuff that we are used to hearing from these bigots. But this time there is one important difference.
That difference is Article X:
- WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.
- WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.
In other words, they are now explicitly and emphatically saying that anti-LGBT bias is an essential part of being a christian, and anyone who does not subscribe to their anti-LGBT beliefs are not christians.
Now, for some years many of us on the queer and queer-affirming side of this divide have been pointing out that they have boiled christianity down to nothing more than the hatred of the gays. Politicians who in no other way support what any reasonable person would call Christ-like values, nor who love in anyway according to christian values are given high ratings, endorsements, and money by these organizations as long as they oppose marriage equality, trans rights, and so on.
There was that amusing Tumblr post I linked to awhile back where someone made a joke about homophobes, and scores of angry christians swarmed on the post calling it anti-christian hate. Then the original poster had to point out that the word “christian” didn’t appear anywhere in joke. It literally said “homophobe” but, “you guys went ahead and read yourselves in there.”
But whenever we accuse them of throwing out all of Jesus’s teachings (in the Bible, Jesus never said a single word, not one, about homosexuality) and replacing them with a hatred of us queers, they have emphatically denied it.
I’ve seen some folks say to just ignore it, because they don’t officially speak for anyone. But here’s one of the problems I have with that. In May of 1845 a bunch of conservative Baptist churches sent representatives to a meeting in Augusta, Georgia, and issued a 14-point statement of why they were separating from the rest of the Baptist Churches. Twelve of the fourteen points in that statement were affirming the institution of slavery in various ways, along with the segregation of the races and the inherent superiority of the white race. That was the birth of the Southern Baptist Convention, years before the civil war.
Even after the war, that group continued to fight for white supremacy and racial segregation, until 1971… at which time the finally endorsed desegregation and shifted their focus to abortion, women’s rights, and gay rights. They were the core of the Moral Majority. They remain a core consituency of the Republican Party in general and Donald Trump in particular.
I know this, because I was raised in that church. I’ve always been proud of the fact that my own grandfather was one of the delegates to the 1971 convention where racial segregation was finally removed from the official doctrine of the church. I was less proud of how many members of our home church at the time quit to form a new Bible Baptist Church over the issue of racial segregation.
So, 172 years after issuing a similarly bigoted statement, pain and suffering are still being inflicted on some segments of the population. I have trouble not fearing something similar here from the signatories of the Nashville Statement. Adopting hate and sticking to it didn’t make that group whither away. It grew, until it became (and remains) the largest Protestant denomination in North America.
Until now, they have always stopped short of explicitly saying that the christians who disagree with them on this issue aren’t really Christian. I think this represents a new battle line from people who feel emboldened by the election of Donald Trump. I don’t think this is just the same old, same old. These are the same people who, when we point out that the teachings of Jesus contradict them, claim that Jesus’s various admonitions about love and compassion only apply to fellow christians. They’ve been sanctioning the murder of abortion providers for decades, as well as the bashing and murder of queer and trans people. This statement puts targets on many more people.
Don’t laugh it off.
There was a lot of talk during the meeting about insurance—either that our current insurance carrier didn’t want to cover us against theft and vandalism for parts of the building that were unlocked at night, or they were going to raise our rates significantly, I don’t recall which. There were a number of people in the congregation who felt maybe we should start locking the main building. “We aren’t in a tiny town and it isn’t the fifties,” is how I think one person put it. Another person told a story of homeless people routinely sleeping in churches and sometimes not being careful about where they went to the bathroom.
One of the associate pastors rose to his feet on that one and said, “Call me foolish if you want, but I think the proper response to finding a homeless person sleeping in your church should be to offer them a meal, and then ask what other help do they need!”
I grew up in Southern Baptist Churches where the tradition is that all business decisions related to the church are decided by the congregation as a whole. At regular intervals the usual Wednesday Prayer meeting would begin with a business meeting. Any congregation member, no matter their age, who attended the meetings had a vote. I had been attending business meetings at the many churches we attended (as my family moved) for as long as I could remember. I seldom remembered one that became more impassioned than that debate about whether to put locks on the sanctuary door.
It was beginning to look as if the majority was leaning toward adding the locks. And then one elderly member of the congregation struggled to stand up. She had been frail and needed a walker to get around for some years, but she never missed a service at the church. She let the person sitting next to her help her to her feet, but then she sort of shook him off and raised her face as if she was speaking to the heavens themselves, and I hadn’t heard her voice sound so firm in years. “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not visit me. And they will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick and in prison and did not help you?’ And he will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whenever you did not do it for the least of these, you did not do for me!'” She paused, looked around at all of us, and then added. “We call it a sanctuary! That is what it is supposed to be! This isn’t our house, it is His house, and he already told us what we ought to do!”
And then she sat down.
Every one was very quiet for a moment, then someone said, “I move that we do not put locks on the sanctuary.” About forty of us said, “Seconded!” And the deacon conducting the meeting said, “Everyone in favor, signify by saying ‘amen’?” That was a very loud chorus of “amens.” Then the deacon asked, “Any opposed?” And I think one person said “Nay,” and he was immediately admonished by his wife.
Before I move on, a few notes. It has been many years since I considered myself a Christian. I usually say that I didn’t reject the church, but my denomination (which is still anti-gay decades later) rejected me. At that time, I felt I had no choice but to look for spiritual fulfillment elsewhere. I usually define myself as Taoist, now. But when that woman started quoting the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, I found myself murmuring along with her. I wasn’t the only person, by any means, but my point is that I was the kind of kid who could quote entire chapters of the Bible from heart. Some of those passages still speak strongly to me.So, yes, I was one of the people a bit outraged when so-called christian televangelist Joel Osteen, mega church pastor in Houston, Texas, refused to open his building as a shelter to his neighbor flooded out of their homes: Joel Osteen’s Houston megachurch opens to Harvey victims only after backlash. The church’s statements have been slightly contradictory. There are plenty of posts on the internet you can track down of people living nearby walking to the church during the time when the church claimed it was flooded to show there wasn’t any flooding. And during the time when they said it was not locked people walked up and took videos of themselves trying doors and so forth.
So let’s get a few things straight. Osteen’s “ministry” preaches so-called prosperity gospel, the essence of which is: if you’re rich, that’s a sign God likes you. If you’re not, maybe he doesn’t. This runs absolutely counter to almost every word Jesus actually said. The church in question isn’t just a megachurch, it is a former sports arena that the “ministry” purchased for millions of dollars, then spent at least 70 million more renovating. The renovations include installing two artificial waterfalls inside the church, yet somehow in all of that they neglected to put in any symbols of Christianity: there are no crosses or any other signs inside the sanctuary that indicate in any way that it is a christian house of worship. Thousands of TV cameras and screens and a top-notch sound system so that you can always see and hear Osteen, though.
While the child inside me who used to love reciting John 16:33, or Matthew 5:3-16, or Matthew 25:31-46 gets outraged at Osteen’s actions, I can’t really say that he is much of an outlier of typical evangelical christian thought. Most evangelical christians believe, whether they say it aloud or not, in the Just World Fallacy: if bad things happen to you, they are almost certainly a punishment from god. In other words, if you’re poor, it can’t possibly be because the entire system of the economy and society is geared to transfer wealth and resources from everyone else to the rich, it’s because you’re probably secretly doing something sinful. If you get a horrible disease, it isn’t caused by a virus or chemicals you’ve been exposed to in your deregulated workplace, et cetera, it’s because you’re doing something sinful, et cetera. And therefore, poor people, sick people, and so forth don’t deserve help and compassion. Like Osteen’s prosperity BS, it is the opposite of what Jesus actually taught.
As if one object lesson in just how uncompassionate and unchristian many of these so-called religious leaders are, at the same time this was unfolding, another group of evangelical leaders were doubling down on their anti-gay, anti-trans, anti-sex, anti-joy hateful rhetoric: Evangelical Leaders Release Anti-LGBTQ Statement On Human Sexuality. The fact that some of those “leaders” have been involved in serious scandals trying to cover-up rampant sexual abuse within their organization is really all anyone needs to know about them.
But someone else described these situations far more eloquently long ago:
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
—Jesus, as quoted in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 7, verses 21-23.
The tl;dr version: back in the ’70s and ’80s he was the Catholic official in charge of educational institutions and programs in a region of Australia that included the notorious St. Alipius Primary School, a place described later by investigators as “a pedophile’s paradise and a child’s nightmare.” When Father Gerald Ridsdale, one of the worst offenders at that place and similar places for decades before, was finally charges with sex crimes in 1993, then Auxiliary Bishop Pell walked with Ridsdale as he was escorted into court (in hopes that his appearance and support would get Ridsdale a more lenient prison sentence), which cemented in the minds of many his dismissive attitude about accusations of sex abuse.
Eventually Australian legal authorities began turning up more and more evidence of people who had reported the sexual abuse to Pell over the years. Pell conveniently was transferred to a job at Vatican City, and then when the Royal Commission summoned him to testify, he suddenly conveniently became too ill to travel. Eventually, bowing to political pressure, Cardinal Pell agreed to testify via video conference.Most of the allegations against him have been an all-too-familiar tale: Catholic official learns about priests or nuns sexually abusing children in their care, the situation is hushed up, the abuser is whisked away and given a job somewhere far off where they still have access to vulnerable children, the official denies any knowledge of the issue and takes other actions to protect the reputation and financial assets of the church, completely ignoring the victims. And, of course, said official continues in their own job, often rising to higher positions in the church: How Cardinal Pell Rose to Power, Trailed by a Cloud of Scandal.
Finally, it seems, Pell’s past is catching up with him: Police statement: Cardinal George Pell charged with multiple sexual offences – video and The charges against Cardinal George Pell – explainer.
So, we don’t yet know what the charges are. It’s possible that the criminal charges are for not taking action when crimes were reported to him (at least one occasion of which he admitted to during the video testimony). We’ll have to wait and see. Personally, I hope he spends the rest of his life in prison.
While we’re on the subject of officials behaving badly, former Congressman Aaron Schock (of whom I’ve written about a few times) has recently asked, once again, that the court throw out the 24-count indictment for corruption against him. While continuing to proclaim his innocence, he filed a 44-page brief which basically boils down to a claim that House Ethics Rules aren’t laws, so the fact that he violated them can’t be prosecuted. That’s right, he says he’s innocent, and then he says that he did the things but because of legal technicalities he shouldn’t be charged: Schock Rips DOJ, Urges Toss Of ‘Defective’ Indictment.
There is so much I could say about this, but I think this time I’ll give the final word to the Editorial Board of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, who observed:
“Former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Peoria, once known for his six-pack abs and $5,000 office chandelier, is due in court next month on 24 criminal counts, including theft of government funds, fraud and making false statements.
The German word, schadenfreude, meaning to take joy in the misfortune of others, must have been created for this. It was hard to like Schock, 36, who flaunted the good life, allegedly achieved by treating government and campaign funds as a personal piggy bank. He gaudily redecorated his office to look like “Downton Abbey,” modeled for the cover of Men’s Health and charged thousands of dollars to his government-funded office account for such things as private flights, new cars and tickets to the Super Bowl.
Schock, who was the youngest member of the House when he went to Congress in 2009, resigned on March 31, 2015, immersed in scandal.”
Three months ago, an angry homophobe walked into an Orlando, Florida gay night club and murdered 49 people, wounding 53 more. It was a Saturday night during Queer Pride month, and it was specifically Latinx Night at that club. The homophobe had spent time in the days before the massacre staking out the location. He had created a fake profile on a gay hook up app before that for the express purpose (based on the recovered chats) of finding out what the busiest gay nightclubs were in his community1. It was a planned hate crime.
The homophobe decided to buy an assault rifle to kill as many queers as he could after seeing two men kissing in public. The shooter’s own father was shocked at how angry his son had become when he saw that.
Three months later, reading about this still feels like a punch in my gut. I’m an out queer man who grew up in redneck communities during the 60s and 70s. I have always had the moment of fear any time I am out in public with my husband any time we show any affection. I have a specific incident where I know my husband was threatened with violence after we exchanged a quick kiss when I dropped him off at a bus stop years ago. It’s a dread calculation I find myself making whenever we are out with friends: is it all right if I call him “honey,” or will we get harassed? Can I safely say, “I love you,” or will we get threatened?
Thanks to this shooting, there’s now a new layer of fear and anxiety on that. Not just that I and my husband might be in danger, but that our actions might set off another bigot who will go murder a bunch of queer people.
Some people will ask, “It’s been three months; are you still upset about this?” And yes, people will actually ask. I know this because the day after the massacre happened people who I used to think were my friends were angry at me for being upset about the shooting.
Other people have much more immediate reasons not to forget: Last hospitalized survivor of Pulse nightclub shooting discharged. And now that he’s finally able to leave the hospital, Pulse nightclub shooting survivor plans return to New Orleans for recovery. Even though he’s out of the hospital, he’s got more recovery to do. As many of the other survivors are still going through physical therapy and otherwise trying to recover health and mobility that was taken from them.
There’s other kinds of fall-out still happening: State slaps $150,000 fine on security firm that employed Orlando Pulse shooter. The company isn’t being fined for anything directly related to the massacre. No, while authorities (and journalists) were investigating, the psychological evaluation he had undergone to get his security job was publicized. And people tried to contact the doctor whose name was on the evaluation. The problem was, she had stopped practicing more than a decade ago, had moved out of state, and hadn’t performed any evaluations for the employer since. At least 1500 employees were incorrectly listed has having been examined by the retired doctor during those ten years.
The state agency that investigated believes that all of those people were evaluated and passed, just that the wrong doctor was listed on their records. Over a thousand times. Over the course of ten years. Isn’t that reassuring?
I mean, a single psych eval doesn’t guarantee anything, particularly one done years before. And if I’m going to be disturbed about problems in the case, it would be the shooter’s history of domestic violence. One might ask how people get jobs where they are given badges and weapons and put in charge of security at places like courthouses when they have a history of domestic violence. I’m reminded of a chilling op-ed piece I read years ago that pointed out if having been arrested for domestic violence (or admitting in divorce proceedings to abuse) disqualified people from being cops, prison guards, and the like, we’d have a very hard time staffing departments, prisons, and so forth3.
“A FELONY DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CONVICTION IS THE SINGLE GREATEST PREDICTOR OF FUTURE VIOLENT CRIME AMONG MEN.”
—according to the Washington State Institute for Public Policy’s analysis of The Offender Accountability Act
Let’s not forget that all the societal forces and institutions that encouraged the shooter to hate queer people, and that afterward blames the victims for bring this thing on themselves just by being who they are, are still active in this country. Some of them are even running for high political office. Others are merely preaching in churches around the country. Though some are finding themselves less welcome with their co-religionists: Baptist Union distances itself from anti-gay pastor.
The pastor in question, Steven Anderson, is one of many who said (from his pulpit) the Pulse massacre victims deserved to be murdered. He’s not the pastor who said that who has since been arrested for molesting a young boy. But since this guy also often goes off on homophobic rants, it wouldn’t surprise me if he gets caught doing something similar. But right now he’s just trying to go to South Africa and preach. He might not get to spread his hate there, however: SOUTH AFRICA CONSIDERS BANNING U.S. ANTI-GAY PREACHER.
Not that banning one pastor from one country is going to make much of a dent in the hate: Fox News Commentator Tells Conservative Christians They Must Support Anti-Gay Hate Groups.
But enough about the hateful people. What can we do to help love to win? Well, the first thing is not to forget the previous victims of hate:
1. The political cartoon I link to above refers to the Orlando shooter as a “gay homophobe” which was widely reported, but later debunked by the FBI2. The shooter installed a gay hookup app on his phone and set up his account around the same time that he bought the weapon that he later used in the massacre. And as I mentioned, his conversations never turned into meetings. He would ask gays what the busiest club was, and if they didn’t know, stop talking to him. If they mentioned any clubs, he would ask questions about the nightclubs, and then deflect any attempts by the person he was talking to to actually meet. A few people who spoke to the press in the aftermath of the shootings, claiming to have been flirted with by him or have even had sex with the shooter. But the FBI determined that none of them had actually met the shooter.
2. I still run into people who believe that the shooter was a self-loathing gay man, and that this fact means it wasn’t actually a hate crime. First, he wasn’t gay. Second, lots of hate crimes against queer people have been committed by self-loathing or in-denial queer people. Doesn’t make it any less of a hate crime.
3. I wish I could find that specific article, but I haven’t been able to track it down. There are numerous other sources of that data, however: Research suggests that family violence is two to four times higher in the law-enforcement community than in the general population. So where’s the public outrage? for instance. Or: 40% of police officer families experience domestic violence.
The pope made news again, saying that in light of the Orlando shooting, the Catholic Church owes queers an apology: Pope: Church owes apology to gays (and they’re not the only ones). The news came while I was in the middle of a busy weekend including both the Locus Awards and the Pride Parade, so I didn’t have time to dig into it. I assumed that this was another instance of the press taking part of a statement out of context, as they did three years ago with all the “who am I to judge” headlines that said the pope was in favor of gay rights, when what the pope actually said was more along the lines of, “Who am I to judge a person who claims to be ex-gay and does a decent enough job of staying in the closet as to give me plausible deniability?”
I figured that I would look into the story later, fully expecting to find out that the statement he’d made was more complicated than the headlines make it. Well, it is, but the contradiction isn’t as blatantly obvious as that previous time. “I think that the Church not only should apologize to the person who is gay whom it has offended. … But we must also apologize to the poor as well, to the women who have been exploited, to children exploited for labor. It must apologize for having blessed so many weapons.”
There are several qualifiers in there, and I could quibble over a lot of them, but the real hypocrisy is a bit more meta. He thinks that the Church should apologize. Really? I wonder if he has thought of mentioning it to the person who is in charge of the Church; you know, the person who has the power to actually apologize. And more than apologize, the person who, in theory, has the power to make infallible statements that come with the stamp of approval of god?
Has the pope actually told the pope what he thinks?
The other contradiction is a little less funny. The statement, and his following comments, make it clear that he is referring to the church apologizing for things that it had done in the past, as if its teachings are not still, present tense, causing harm to queers, and women, and so on. Biblically, you don’t ask for forgiveness until after you have stopped committing the sin. The church (both the Catholic Church and a whole lot of people claiming to speak for god in other denominations) is still bearing false witness against queer people, still describing us as sinful and disordered, and so on.
You have to rescind those lies, aspersions, and condemnations before you apologize for them.
There’s a new study out showing, once again, that simply saying these things about us causes actual harm to our health, both mental and physical: What Happens When Gay People Are Told That Homosexuality Is A Sin?
And I want to make something very clear, here. Theologically, a sin is an intentional and voluntary action. All of the medical science (yes, all of it) agrees that homosexuality is not a matter of choice, it is an innate characteristic. In other words, it isn’t voluntary. When a sincerely held religious belief is contradicted by scientific fact, then it isn’t faith, it is delusion.
When any religious leader insists that homosexuality is a sin, they are bearing false witness. The Bible also insists that slavery is a good thing, yet no Christian religious leaders (not even Pope Emeritus Benedict) are calling for a return to slavery. They now all handwave it and say that the slavery comments in the Bible are because of the culture at the time, and therefore aren’t a commentary applicable today. Or they try to claim that the Bible’s comments on slavery are really about god advising people how to deal with a situation that shouldn’t exist but that cannot, at present, be rectified. They insist on that rationalization even though the Apostle Paul wrote one entire book of the Bible about how a Christian slave owner should treat his Christian slaves (spoiler: at no point did he say that people should never treat other people as property).
The sections of the Bible that are usually read to condemn homosexuality are a lot less clear than its teachings on slavery. Yet members of the religious right are willing to contort themselves to claim that the Bible’s clear endorsement of slavery doesn’t exist, while pretending that these few mostly ambiguous comments on fidelity, temple prostitutes, and so on are indisputable statements about people who love other people of the same gender.
And every time this pope has said some things that the press latched onto to wildly report that the Church was softening it’s stand on queers, later statements and officially issued proclamations re-iterate the original position that we are disordered, sinful, dangerous, et cetera. So, no, I’m not awaiting whatever comes of this comment about apologies with bated breath.
People insist that there is nothing they else they can do, but frequently they’re wrong. There are things which can be done. Things within the power of the people making that statement. Congress critters of the conservative sort are especially liable, here (but not the only ones). And I don’t just mean in passing laws, though that could often help.
The very same congresspeople who sat in Republican caucus recently and prayed that gays are “worthy of death” made a big show of talking about thoughts and prayers while a lot of the public was up in arms about the Orlando shooting. It didn’t stop them from killing an amendment to extend job discrimination protections to queer people. It didn’t stop them from voting down an amendment to tighten (but hardly close) the so-called gun show loophole. It doesn’t stop them from attending rallies with pastors who call for the death of gays. It doesn’t stop them from telling their supporters that letting trans children use the bathroom that matches their gender identity is dangerous.
They’re not just withholding a water hose. They’re the people who have been splashing gasoline in the direction of every queer person they could for years. They’re the people who handed matches out to lots of people and said, “I don’t condone violence, but god says queers are monsters.”
Thoughts and prayers is more than just a means to look like you care when you don’t. It’s more than just a means to appear helpful while you do nothing. It’s more that just a means to make people focus on your piety rather than the problems of others.
It’s also an attempt to establish an alibi.
If they offer thoughts and prayers, then clearly they can claim they had no idea that all their anti-gay rhetorical was going to encourage another to attack queer people. If they offer thoughts and prayers, then clearly they can also claim that they had no idea that all the anti-trans hysteria they’ve whipped up over bathrooms would make gender nonconforming kids hate themselves to the point of considering suicide. If they offer thoughts and prayers, than clearly they can claim it’s not their fault that queer people grow up filled with fear and self-loathing, driving some to self destructive behavior, while driving some to turn that violence toward others. Clearly, they say, it isn’t their fault that anyone would listen to all the hate they have been spewing and act on it.
Why would anyone ever think they wanted that?